Water Energy Food Nexus

updated February 2017

The industrial revolution brought about a radical change in freshwater economics. Once a primary energy source (the water-wheel), freshwater now quenches the voracious thirst of coolants, hydraulics, fracking and other technologies dominant in energy generation. Hydroelectric is the one major energy technology for which water is the primary source.

The energy dependence of every sector of the modern economy has therefore added great complexity to the management of water as a scarce resource. Global freshwater use is divided between agriculture (69%), households and offices (12%) and industry (19%).

The interdependence between these building blocks of modern civilization is often described as the water energy food nexus. For example, tackling energy insecurity by planting biofuel crops displaces food production and may require extra irrigation. Conversely, water scarcity can be relieved by desalinisation on an industrial scale but this technology is energy intensive. Even the basic task of moving water to where it is needed requires fuel for pumping.

Water is acknowledged to be pivotal in the nexus, in that any scarcity is likely to impose upward pressure on food and energy prices. This is a scenario that strikes fear into political leaders struggling to deliver economic prosperity. A World Bank report published in 2016 warns that water scarce countries could see their growth rates decline by as much as 6% of GDP by 2050.

Too many governments lack the coordination necessary to anticipate how policies targeting the supply of one element of the water energy food nexus will almost certainly have consequences for the other two. For example, protests against new fossil fuel technologies such as gas fracking and oil sands are inspired in part by fears of depletion and pollution of water sources.


Sustainability in the Water-Energy-Food Nexus – achieving water, energy and food security for everyone is one of the greatest challenges humankind faces today
from the Global Water System Project

The Water-Food-Energy Nexus
from World Economic Forum

more Water Scarcity briefings
Water Cycle
Causes of Water Scarcity
Climate Change and Water Scarcity
Solutions to Water Scarcity
Sustainable Development Goal for Water
Access to Drinking Water
Water Wars
Source material and useful links

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